Dirk Powell has expanded on the deeply rooted sounds of his Appalachian heritage to become one of the preeminent traditional American musicians of his generation. In addition to his widely influential solo recordings, he has recorded and performed with artists such as Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, Jack White, Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne. His ability to unite the essence of traditional culture with modern sensibilities has led to work with many of today's greatest film directors as well, including Ang Lee, Anthony Minghella, Spike Lee, Victor Nuñez and Steve James. He was a founding member of the important Cajun group Balfa Toujours and has been a regularly featured artist in the award-winning BBC series The Transatlantic Sessions. In addition to performing under his own name in a wide variety of settings, Dirk also tours regularly with Joan Baez, playing 7 instruments during each performance.
Dirk’s soulful and emotionally fearless music has carried him to a unique place in today’s musical landscape -- one where tradition, innovation, and inspiration meet without borders.
As a child, Dirk learned guitar from his father and banjo and fiddle from his grandfather. He studied classical piano early on, but found that the music being handed to him by family members, with love and generosity, gave him a voice that resonated more deeply with the stories and emotions he aspired to share. This love for traditional music found him spending most of his teenage years traveling around remote parts of the Southern US, eventually landing in Louisiana, where he learned Creole and Cajun music from his mentors Dewey Balfa and Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin. He has made his home in Louisiana since 1993 while continuing to release acclaimed recordings based in his Appalachian heritage.
Dirk’s combination of rural roots and formal training make him a unique force in the world of music and film. His extensive work with Anthony Minghella on the Academy Award-winning film Cold Mountain included on-set consulting, arranging traditional and original music for the screen, performing the banjo parts of a central character, and acting. He has worked with several other world-renowned directors, such as Ang Lee on Ride With the Devil, Spike Lee on Bamboozled, and Victor Nuñez on Coastlines. Dirk has also composed score for several award-winning documentary and dramatic films, including Stranger With a Camera, Stevie, and Thoughts in the Presence of Fear. His end credit composition for In the Electric Mist has received wide acclaim.
Dirk’s television credits include two appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, The Today Show and the American Masters series on PBS. He has appeared on the radio programs All Things Considered, World Café, Weekend Edition, A Prairie Home Companion, E-Town, Mountain Stage, and many others, both in the US and abroad.
Through his recordings with Loretta Lynn, Irma Thomas, Tim O’Brien, and the Raconteurs, Dirk was a featured performer on projects winning Grammy awards four years in a row in four different categories. The recording studio he designed and operates, The Cypress House, counts Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, James McMurtry and others among its clients. Ronstadt’s project Adieu False Heart was nominated for a Grammy not only in the folk category but also in the non-classical engineering category – a tribute, in part, to Dirk’s acoustic design of the space. Dirk’s original songs have been performed and recorded by a wide variety of artists and his production skills have shaped many powerful recordings over the last twenty years.
Dirk is a recognized force within the international musical scene. His bonds with Louisiana and with the mountains of Kentucky are unmistakable – but so is his far-reaching vision and ability to translate the essence of tradition to audiences who need the timeless and sustaining messages that tradition brings.
“God gave this one an overdose of talent.” -- Joan Baez
“Dirk’s got great subtlety, tremendous feel, and he’s very loose and very modern, in the best sense of the word.” --T-Bone Burnett
"Hearing Dirk play the fiddle on the set of Cold Mountain, I felt as if my work as an actor had already been done for me." --Jude Law